Yves Boisvert is a columnist for La Presse.
Few journalists in this country know Canada better than Jeffrey Simpson. And fewer still have a better understanding of Quebec politics, which is an exotic theme for a vast majority of reporters outside the province.
I met Jeffrey Simpson on several occasions when I was a young journalist and was able to see, at work, the same man whose articles I had read before entering the profession: curious, well-read, generous and apparently devoid of self-importance, even though some viewed him with an almost papal deference.
The distinguished columnist is, along with Graham Fraser and some others, part of the vanishing breed of Canadian journalists who invested a lot of time in trying to understand Quebec society and history during the 1970s and 1980s. That was before “constitutional fatigue” set in.
Not many star journalists from other parts of Canada could easily cover a trial, a press conference or a political gathering held in French. Mr. Simpson, who laid down his pen for The Globe on Friday after more than 30 years as a national affairs columnist, is much more than technically bilingual. He speaks a perfect French and could conduct an interview in la langue de Molière with the man in the street as well as with the chief justice or the premier of Quebec.
When the Parti Québécois defeated the Liberals in 2012, reactions from a large section of commentators in the Canadian media ranged from deep concern to exasperation to panic.
Mr. Simpson’s response was more thoughtful, and spot on: “Commentary about Quebec from outside the province, often from those who cannot read, write or understand French, too often displays the gusto of the uninformed and the sunken storyline that ‘they’ are not like ‘us.’”
And he added, to those who were spooked by the election of a secessionist party: “What’s so strange about wanting to turf a government led by a premier seeking a fourth mandate?” He went on to put things into political and economic perspective and, four years later, his analysis only seems stronger.
Mr. Simpson is not one of those people who, coming from St. John’s, Red Deer or even Toronto, have a cultural epiphany the day they set foot in Montreal, falling immediately in love with almost everything Québécois, be it the music scene, the restaurants, the outside staircases or jaywalking.
But his relationship with Quebec was not a love affair. It only seemed inconceivable to him that one would purport to be a serious analyst of Canadian politics without mastering one of the two official languages, without having first-hand access to political stakeholders, without reading or listening to the French media.
Mr. Simpson could be extremely critical at times, as a columnist should. He could seem to “defend” Quebec at times, as in that 2012 column.
But more importantly, he spent a lot of time and energy simply explaining Quebec to the rest of the country in the most honest and well-informed way.
If anyone could legitimately express constitutional fatigue, it would be Jeffrey Simpson. But he indefatigably, honestly, pursued his great (albeit not so sexy) explanatory work.
One has to wonder where the Jeffrey Simpsons of today are. But maybe this is just nostalgia, or admiration for the journalist’s journalist he is. There never were many Jeffrey Simpsons to begin with.
Anyway, Merci beaucoup et au revoir, Monsieur Simpson.Report Typo/Error
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